When the Germans went to invade Czechoslovakia during the Second World War, it was believed they wouldn’t experience much – if any – retaliation. However, they were met with resistance by one man: Josef Mencik. Their encounter was a strange one and, in a sense, prevented the military from invading, if only for a brief moment.
Mencik’s defiance to the German invasion was not out of character, and it earned him the nickname of the “Last Knight.”
Josef Mencik’s early life is a mystery
Very little is known about Josef Mencik’s life before the Second World War. His date of birth is contested, and the exact location it occurred is unknown. That being said, historians have been able to surmise he lived in the Böhmerwald region of Czechoslovakia. Mencik’s family lineage is also a mystery. Sourced records have been deemed unreliable, and some believe information that would reveal his ancestry is concealed in archives that protect those who were involved in World War II.
Mencik never shared his mother or father’s names, and he never disclosed if he had any siblings. What is known of his family later in life is that he had a wife, named Ema Mencikova, and two children. He became well-known in his community, and was dubbed the “Knight of Strakonice.”
Josef Mencik adopted a knightly lifestyle
The Czech "knight" Josef Menšik posing with his sword and his suit of armor sometime before his one-man stand against the German annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938. pic.twitter.com/oDE5QNpVjh
— History Defined (@historydefined) October 3, 2022
When Josef Mencik was old enough to afford a house of his own, he did exactly that, purchasing a castle that dated back to the 14th century. It was called Dobrš Castle and had been severely damaged by heavy rainfall and a fire that had broken out on the property. After purchasing the structure, he began restoring Dobrš to its former glory.
Over the years, Mencik also amassed a remarkable collection of antiques and curiosities from centuries prior. This led him to turn the castle into a pseudo-museum, where he happily educated visitors on the history of the area. Part-educator, part-performer, he’s since been described as the definition of living history.
Mencik embraced an alternative lifestyle while living at Dobrš Castle. He quite literally lived like a knight, abandoning modern conveniences like cars and electricity, instead employing torches and candles to light his residence. For lack of a better term, he lived chivalrously.
Despite his strange way of life, Mencik was respected in his community for being a generous and helpful person.
The Germans were met by one man
The moment that cemented Josef Mencik into history was the day he decided to face the invading German Army by himself. In many instances, when the Wehrmacht wanted to invade a territory, they were met with retaliation from inhabitants. When they crossed the Czechoslovakian border in 1938, however, they were met by just one man only: Mencik.
Mencik stood up against the advancing German column at the Buccina border, wearing a full French medieval-era suit of armor, riding horseback on his thoroughbred, and holding a sword and halberd. Some historians have called his defiance courageous, while others have referred to it as foolish. Either way, it initially prevented the German soldiers from advancing any further – if only for a moment.
The troops stood there in shock of the knight standing before them. This didn’t last long, however, as they ultimately decided to pay no mind to Mencik and continue past him. As they walked by, they tapped their helmets at him, suggesting he was crazy, and Mencik moved out of the way, unable to stop them.
Josef Mencik’s legacy lives on
Josef Mencik’s stand against the Germans has become a tale of legend. Although some equate him to a Czechoslovakian Don Quixote, others believe he was fully aware of the fact he wasn’t a real knight. Instead, it’s more likely that he idolized them and saw honor in standing up against the enemy while dressed as one.
Mencik likely never believed he could actually prevent the Germans from invading Czechoslovakia. He was, however, successful in preventing his castle from being overrun. While he was regarded as a non-issue by the Germans, the fact remains that they never technically defeated him.
Following the end of the Second World War, Dobrš Castle became nationalized by the Communist government, and it remains open to the public. Mencik went on to live a long and chivalrous life until his death at the age of 78. His legacy continues to live on, and historians and scholars alike have studied his story.